European Travel

A group of five is traveling to Europe. I am a part of this group. I have let two of the travelers do almost all the planning. This will be a first for me. I am usually the one who does the planning. It should be a new experience.

Speaking of new experiences our group will be using the Rail Europe train system for transport between the larger cities. We need to travel from Amsterdam to Brussels, then from Brussels to Paris. Witte Travel & Tours can arrange your Rail Europe travel before you leave the states. You can get your rail passes and your reserved seats that are used on the high-speed trains. Just be sure to remember to take the tickets with you! Looking forward to traveling by train. My husband and I used the rail system in Germany. It was quite an efficient way to travel. It wasn’t as hard to figure out as I thought it might be.

With less one week to go until we leave, it is time to start the lists and piles of items I need to pack. Something to do on the train might be nice, or maybe I’ll just look out the window.

 

 

Me and Martin Luther

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I recently returned from a quick tour of LutherCountry  to visit the places in Germany where Martin Luther lived and worked. Though I’ve been to Germany a half a dozen times, all of my previous trips were to the west (Rhine River valley) or to the south (Bavaria). Here in the Lutherlands, primarily located in the former East Germany, things were a little different. Mostly in that Soviet brutalist architecture…but certainly in the culture as well.

Luther statue number, I lost count
Luther statue number… 4? Or maybe 7? I lost count.

But no matter their particular inclination toward speediness of service, there is no denying the German people’s general appreciation for Mr. Luther. In case you haven’t heard (which would be quite unlikely if you live anywhere near LutherCountry), 2017 marks the 500th Anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. The actions of Luther and the other Reformers certainly changed the church, but they also had a tremendous impact on the German language, music, art, architecture, politics and social life. Today, it seems like every town has a statue of Martin Luther (which, by the way, are great for selfies!)

selfie with Martin in Lutherstadt Wittenberg
Case in point: selfie with Martin in Lutherstadt Wittenberg

The Germans have been preparing for this important year for some time now — nearly a decade, in fact. Playmobil even released a Martin Luther figurine last year to commemorate the upcoming anniversary, and the first run of 34,000 sold out in less than 72 hours.

Me and giant Playmobil Martin
Selfie with giant Playmobil Martin

All of this Anniversary hoopla seems to have encouraged the local tourist boards to get creative as they link their communities with the Great Reformer. There is a long list of cities with official connection to Luther, and many more with lesser claims. For example, even Nuremburg made the cut on our Luther tour. While the sausages of Nuremburg alone are worth the visit, the closest connection I could determine is that their printing houses encouraged the spread of Luther’s ideas, while his Protestant thought influenced their sacred architecture. A stretch, I think, but the sausages were great!

On tour with fellow Luther enthusiasts in Nuremburg
On tour with fellow Luther enthusiasts in Nuremburg.

So if you’re interested in being a part of the historic celebration in Germany next year– let me know, as I’ll be leading a group.  (And if you’re one of the few that doesn’t have a “Little Luther” Playmobil in your house – well, I can hook you up.)

 


Dan Hermen is the Director of Sales for Witte Travel & Tours. This blog post is the first part of a series that will focus on Martin Luther and the Reformation Anniversary.


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Dublin by day!

We didn’t have to get up super early today. That was a relief. It is still cold and wet outside today. We woke to a light dusting of snow on the cars outside the window. Glad we are not driving. The weather said schools in the UK were closed due to snow. They received 3″!

Nicola from Eibus was to meet us at 9:30 in the lobby for coffee. We had about a 1.5 hour meeting with her. She’s a super nice lady. We discussed some of our groups that have traveled to Ireland and our experience with the day tour operators in Galway. She was kind enough to offer us a ride into Dublin and drop us at the Guinness Storehouse. This was much appreciated after our walk to the red line stop yesterday.

We arrived at the Guinness Storehouse having already purchased tickets online before leaving. (€18.00 per person)

Vienna in a Day

Since I only had one full day in Vienna, I decided to start with an independent city tour using my map, landmarks, and public transportation to see as much as I possibly could. And yes, at some point even with the map I got turned around and lost, so once I found a U-Bahn stop, I went underground and got back on track. Seriously, the public transportation system in Austria is equally as user friendly as Germany’s.

Hofburg
Hofburg

Using the bus, I exited at Karlsplatz and immediately viewed the Opera House. Next, I walked by the Cafe Sacher Wien, which has the famous Sachertorte. I went in; however, the wait was long and I had limited time, in Vienna so I left and proceeded to Albertina Museum. Coats must be checked before you can begin your tour. I spent a very thoughtful few hours visiting each floor of art exhibits. I highly recommend this museum. Once back outside, I headed to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. I tried my one attempt at a selfie and decided that is definitely not for me. Selfie fail aside, I went inside to visit the cathedral. Next, I headed to St Peter’s Church for another interior visit. It is truly amazing the art that you find in churches and cathedrals. I am often awestruck by the stain-glass windows alone. Once my visit was complete, I ventured to the Hofburg Palace and purchased a Sisi Ticket, which covered the Hofburg Imperial Apartments, the Schonbrunn Palace’s Grand Tour, and the Imperial Furniture College. I ended my independent city tour by visiting the Hofburg Imperial Apartments. It was quite interesting.

Johann Strauss in Stadtpark
Johann Strauss in Stadtpark

I ended my “day in Vienna” with an independent Ringstrasse tour, using the tram system to get around. Thanks to Rick Steve’s, I finally got to see “up close” the statue of Johann Strauss in Stadtpark, viewed the City Hall and Burhtheater as the tram rode by, and then alighted again from the tram so I could see the statue of Mozart. Both statues can’t be seen while on the tram. While I had a few other stops I wanted to get off of to visit, including City Hall, the time was getting late and the light was fading fast. All in all, I enjoyed my full day in Vienna and look forward to visiting this city again some day.

Day Tripping outside Munich… Linderhof, Neuschwantstein, and Oberammergau

In planning my adventure in Germany and Vienna, I knew I wanted to schedule a day trip. One where I could sit back, relax on a motorcoach, and let someone else handle navigating from point A to B to C. This allowed me to experience a scheduled day tour.

I arrived at the meeting point with plenty of time to spare. There was a little confusion regarding what motorcoach might be ours as it was not clearly marked. That did surprise my fellow day trippers and myself since Grayline is a large company. Once they had the right motorcoach at the stop, we all boarded and started on our adventure.

The cost of the day trip (pre-paid), did not include the cost of admission to Linderhof or Neuschwanstein.  Once we were on our way, the tour manager came around to see if we wanted to purchase tickets to tour the castles. I was very happy to find out that we had a choice to purchase both, none, or just admission to one castle. I have toured Neuschwanstein before, but hadn’t toured Linderhof Castle yet. Now if I’ve been to Neuschwanstein, why go back? I wanted to see what it looked like in the winter vs. fall.

Linderhof Castle
Linderhof Castle

We first arrived at the parking area at Linderhof. Our tour manager went and purchased our tickets and we walked the short distance to the castle. Since it’s winter, the garden area was closed and the statues were encased in wooden structures to protect them from the elements. Even with not being able to see the statues, it was still worth the visit during this time of year. While small in comparison to Neuschwanstein, Linderhof is grand and the castle itself quite opulent. I am so glad I toured it. After the guided tour, we immediately started back to the motorcoach as we had a short amount of time before the motorcoach left.

Next stop…Oberammergau, an amazing village with beautifully painted buildings. It was amazing to see this village for the first time. Our motorcoach parked in the area by the Passion Play Theatre and we were given just a half-hour to visit shops or walk into the village. Sadly, it only gave me time to visit two shops. This is what you sign up for when joining a scheduled day trip. Plus, there never seems enough time to truly enjoy a destination. So with that, I know I will visit this village again, but on my own so I have time to walk and take in the painted buildings and beautiful wood carvings this village is famous for.

Neuschwanstein Castle
Neuschwanstein Castle

Final destination before returning to Munich…Neuschwanstein Castle. The Marienbrucke bridge is currently closed, so you can’t walk on it to get panoramic images of the castle. I knew about this ahead of time, but still wanted to enjoy seeing the outside of the castle again. There are three ways to get up to the castle, by bus, by horse-drawn carriage, or by walking up the long and winding road. It had snowed the day before and was deemed too slippery for the buses to run. I live in Michigan, and seeing the snow barely on the roads this information surprised me; however, some don’t get the amount of snow that we do. Needless to say, the line for the horse-drawn carriage was quite long. For me, I decided to hoof it up to the castle. It was a great workout and well worth the walk. I loved seeing this majestic castle in the winter.

The tour manager gave such great information regarding the areas we visited and the history. The driver was aces and kept us on schedule. All in all, I give Grayline tours high marks and I would definitely sign up for another tour with them again.

Dachau and Nymphenburg Palace

I decided on a morning excursion to Dachau. There are many tour companies that offer tours to Dachau if you so choose. I decided to venture out on my own and use public transportation. Getting there was as simple as a tram, train, and bus ride. I am pretty directionally challenged, in other words I do not have a great sense of direction, and I found navigating there to be quite easy. I do have to say Germany has a great public transportation system.  Knowing my lack of directional sense, I had printed off schedules of the trams, trains, and buses, so I could get to Dachau as efficiently as possible.  For me, having this extra information meant peace of mind.

Dachau
Dachau

Once I stepped off the bus I took from the Dachau train station, I immediately saw the Dachau Memorial Site marker. I knew this would be a sobering; however, important site to visit. In my walk and while I took my self-guided tour of the grounds and museum, I saw many German student groups visiting. It was heart breaking to see the images and videos that had been taken. The devastation is unimaginable; however, it is important to always remember and bear witness so these atrocities are never repeated. During the end of my museum visit, I saw a German teacher sit his students down at the last video. I was so very impressed with him and how he prepared his students. And yes, it was a heart breaking video of so many who had lost their lives.

My self-guided tour of the Museum and grounds took around 3 hours. Walking the grounds gave me time to reflect on all I had seen and learned.

After this difficult visit, I decided to head back to Munich and visit Nymphenburg Palace. If you wonder why visit Nymphenburg? I had seen images of Nymphenburg during my work at Witte and have always wanted to see it in person. Getting to Nymphenburg, I once again used public transportation. It was a short 10 minute walk from the bus stop to the palace. Even with the brisk weather, swans were still in the lake in front of the palace.

Nymphenburg Palace
Nymphenburg Palace

The entrance fee was quite reasonable and you are left on your own to wander around the beautiful palace. I thought it was well worth the time and cost to visit this gem. I only spent around an hour touring; however, if it had been summer with the gardens blooming, I would have been there so much longer. Nymphenburg Palace, even in the winter, is truly a site to see.

Munich City Tour

My time in Munich wasn’t long enough, but it did give me a glimpse of this beautiful and fun city. To begin my exploration, I felt an independent city tour would be best. I decided to begin with a Rick Steve’s recorded tour of Munich; however, found out very quickly that this wouldn’t work for me. I have a very poor sense of direction, so decided to abandon this and go with navigating by map. If you aren’t comfortable navigating on your own for a city tour, I highly recommend hop on, hop off tours. I have used tour companies before, but wanted to get around using the map, landmarks, and if I got horribly lost, go below to the U-bahn to get back on track. The public transportation system in Munich was excellent, as well as the German people.

I began the tour by exiting the U-bahn at Karlsplatz, walked through the Karlstor Gate and strolled down Neuhauser Street, which is a pedestrian area full of shopping opportunities. Seeing the gate, shops, and various statues was truly fascinating.

Glockenspiel in the Marienplatz
Glockenspiel in the Marienplatz

The street led me right to the Marienplatz, the central square in the city centre and one of my favorite spots. The Marienplatz has the Glockenspiel, and Old and New Town Hall. You can actually go into the New City Hall and pay a nominal fee to ride the elevator to the top to get a great panoramic view of Munich. I decided to do this and even though I went when it was cold and very windy, it was well worth it to get a birds-eye view of the area. Unfortunately both days I was at the Marienplatz, I missed the Glockenspiel’s show, though viewing the clock even without the moving parts is still quite interesting.

Viktualienmarkt
Shop in the Viktualienmarkt

Next, I walked through the Old Town Hall gate and visited St. Peter’s Church. Afterwards, I continued to the Viktualienmarkt, an open air market and pedestrian only area. I enjoyed looking at the different vendors here and even laughed when it started to snow. It added to the beauty of the area. I ended my tour and meandered back toward the U-bahn by way of the Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady). I didn’t go inside since it was beginning to get dark and I am most comfortable navigating on my own during the day.

Kilkenny to Dublin – the home stretch

Started the morning early. The room was very nice and breakfast was great. We were on the road by 9 a.m. As I said yesterday, we didn’t get to spend a lot of time here. The drive from Kilkenny to Dublin today took through the Wicklow Mountains. The mountains were very pretty. Snow was visible on the peaks. We decided to get off the motorway and drive through the countryside. At a corner we stopped to take photos of some sheep. I crossed the road and instead of running away (like the Connemara sheep), they all ran toward me! Brenda found this very funny. We both laughed and laughed. The sheep were bleating, the cows mooing, and the dog was barking. Quite a lot of noise. I was sure the farmer was going to come out to see what was going on. Before too long into the drive we stopped for tea and to use the facilities. This stop was made in Baltinglass. We wanted to stop here as there was an abbey listed on the map. We stopped in at Horans for a cup of tea. It’s quite a cute little bar. The barmaid, Kathleen, was super friendly. She told us what to see in the Wicklow Mountains. She said to be sure to see the Upper Lake at Glendalough, that the locals still find it wonderful. We told her we wanted to see the abbey. She said it wasn’t much. We told her that such sights were not available in the U.S. and we all agreed it was a case of it being around all the time, thus losing it charm. When we were ready to leave we asked what we owed and she said nothing. It was to be considered Irish hospitality. We did stop in Glendalough, but the Upper Lake required an admission and we were getting short on time. It will have to wait for another trip.

We completed our trip into Dublin using the motorway, what we call expressways. These are in very good condition as they are fairly new. The M50 is a bypass around the city of Dublin. Wikepedia lists it as the busiest motorway in Ireland. I can believe that. Before dropping off the rental car we went to see Drimnagh Castle. This is just about 5km from our hotel. The tour was fun and informative. Charlie the guide was great. He is here from Scotland. In order to go into the castle you are required to take a guided tour. This was very affordable 4.50 per person for adults. Drimnagh is a Norman Castle in the heart of South Dublin and Ireland’s only remaining moated castle according to their website. The urban area just grew up around it.

We got to the Red Cow Moran about 2:00 p.m. Just a little behind our time. The car rental company couldn’t pick up the car, so we drove it to their offices. They did give us a lift back to the hotel though. No more driving for us now until we get to Michigan.

The hotel is beautiful, and quite large. We went into the bar for a late lunch and a pint. Brenda found out she could get a glass of Guinness instead of a pint. Her new nickname is half-pint! I again chose the seafood chowder. That seems to be my go to meal for lunches. It was quite good. We sat and relaxed ab bit. After lunch we headed to the room to regroup. Tonight we went into Dublin city for our Irish House Party dinner and a show reservation. The routing to get there was a bit of a challenge. We walked the ten minutes (.5 miles) to the Red Cow Luas stop. We purchased a day ticket (€6.80) thinking that would bring us back as well. The ride on the train was fun. We met a older gentleman, whose name is Tom, and he told us about buildings and areas as we past them. He said that if you are over 65 you can ride the public transportation for free. What a great idea. We got off at our stop (Jervis) and walked 20 minutes (.9 miles) to the St. Stephen’s Green Luas stop. From this train stop we walked 20 minutes (1 mile) to our destination. As I told Brenda after we had done this, there is always a “death march” on any trip I plan.

The dinner was very good. Far too much food was served. This is a very touristic thing to do. All of our dinner companions seemed to be visitors like us. There was a large, and loud, group of Belgians. After dinner we were sent downstairs to the performance area. There were four musicians who entered the stage. Declan Quinn was the leader. He sang and played penny whistle and the flute. His brother Eugene sang and played acoustic guitar.  Fergal Chambers played the uilleann pipes. There was a young lady who played the bodhran, sang and danced. I cannot for the life of me remember her name! I think it might be Grainne. We learned that there are three instruments native to Ireland. The bodhran, uilleann pipes and the Irish harp. Overall a very good night of food and music.

After a very long day we decided to take a taxi back to the hotel. This was much easier on us than the walk/public transit that it took to get here. The cost was €20 well spent. We crashed for the night. Tomorrow is our last full day in Ireland.

Oíche mhaith

 

Killarney to Kilkenny

We had missed going to the Dingle Peninsular yesterday we thought we’d try to see part of it today. The weather is still not the best. It is typical Irish weather from what we hear. We drove northwest from Killarney toward Tralee. It was decided in advance that we would drive until 10:30 and then turn around. We managed to get to a beach area on the north side of the peninsular. The wind was the biggest challenge when being outside. The sun came out briefly to give up a rainbow.
We turned back in the direction of Cork and Blarney Castle. The visitor count was light at the castle. We made sure to have our umbrellas with us. We paid our entry of €13 and went onto the grounds. There is construction going on currently. Looks like they are upgrading some visitor amenities. The walk to the castle was very cold and windy. (Thanks Storm Jake!) The castle was enclosed and the wind wasn’t so bad during the climb up. Brenda got a little nervous about the climb, but she made it to the top. Once there though, she didn’t want to kiss the Blarney Stone. I assured her that I wasn’t going to either, as I more than have the “gift of gab.” We climbed back down the spiral stairs and once at the bottom the sky opened up. It rained quite hard. We were glad that it hadn’t rained like that up on the ramparts of the castle. If the weather had been better we might have walked the gardens. Instead, we purchased a cup of tea to takeaway and started the drive to Cashel.
The Rock of Cashel is amazing. We were both very glad we went there. It took us a few times around town to find the parking lot. The walk up to the entrance isn’t too long. At the ticket counter we were told that there would not be a charge. For some reason it was complimentary for the day. The usual cost if 4.50 euro per person. We did have to pay for parking, but at €4.50 it was a bargain. The Cormac Chapel is undergoing major restoration. When it is completed it will be absolutely fantastic. That portion of the site dates from the 12th century. It is difficult to fathom that these building are almost 1,000 years old.
We continued on to Kilkenny for the night. The Hotel Kilkenny is quite nice. After getting settled in we walked into the town center for dinner. On our way we stopped at a sweet shop named Kitty’s Cabin and bought some candy. The shop owner was very helpful. We choose Langton House Hotel for dinner, based on Rick Steve’s book. It was nice, but more expensive than we had been paying. Busy place with lots of locals. Brenda had a lamb stew that she really enjoyed. I went with the fish and chips. We wanted to hear more music, so we walked up toward the north side of the river. Just across was Matt the Millers. This was also listed in Rick Steve’s book. A group called Wallop the Cat was suppose to be playing. We arrived to find a single guitar player singing. He was good though and kept the music up. Not really traditional Irish music, but fun. When he took his break we had a chance to talk to him. His name is John Kavanagh. He is part of Wallop the Cat. His partner was very sick so couldn’t be there. John said he loves to visit the states and has been to 36 of them. Much more than either Brenda or myself. The bar staff was the most friendly of all the places we have been to so far.
Took a taxi back to the hotel as it was too cold and windy. The driver said that we couldn’t stop after only three pints, that it was against the law. He was yet another of the friendly people we have met.
We would like to plan the driving days better though so we can spend more time in the town. We got to see the Kilkenny Castle by night, but not during the day. Next time, as there is lots more to see and do in Kilkenny than we had time for.